Year in Review: Top 10 Global Observatory Reads of 2016

In 2016, much of the world’s attention seemed focused on shocks to the liberal international order such as July’s Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and the successful election campaign of Donald Trump in the United States. Yet Global Observatory readers’ attention appeared elsewhere, on the ongoing challenges associated with implementing and ensuring security and democratic change in the developing world. This was reflected in the list of the most popular articles to appear on the website throughout the last 12 months.

The Philippines’ War on Drugs Is Really a War on the Poor

As 2016 ends, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte continues to cause international outrage with his extrajudicial killing of suspected drug dealers and users in his country. Most recently, Duterte claimed to have personally taken part in a similar campaign when mayor of the city of Davao. Joseph Franco of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore looked back at this history in his August Global Observatory analysis of the campaign, which was then being labelled a “reign of terror.” It concluded that the killings not only contravened the rule of law but entrenched disadvantage among the poor in the Philippines.

Ethiopia’s Unrest Sparked by Unequal Development Record

Ethiopia, as Jon Abbink of the African Studies Centre in Leiden argued, has been undergoing “a rapid process of major socioeconomic transformation” during the past decade. While this has seen the country enjoy relative stability compared with neighboring countries, it was clearly not enough to alleviate all of the country’s tensions. At the time of Abbink’s writing, the country was witnessing mass demonstrations, particularly in the northern Amhara region, with disputes over land rights and economic opportunities for marginalized populations among the reasons.

Key Questions for South Sudan’s New Protection Force

South Sudan’s civil conflict has now reached a point at which many international observers believe there is a very real risk of genocide in the country. In September, the level of violence had prompted the United Nations Security Council to authorize deployment of a regional protection force as part of the UN mission in the country. Paul D. Williams, of George Washington University, warned that a viable political strategy was needed to ensure its success and posed a number of related questions. Among them, would the national government cooperate with the new force?

Sirleaf’s Lingering Authoritarianism Threatens Liberian Transition

Liberia is due to hold general elections late next year. Brooks Marmon used recent firsthand experience of the country’s political to warn of possible complications as a result of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s authoritarian streak. This comes after the national government assumed full responsibility for the country’s national security from the departing United Nations mission this year. “Notable democratic failures may hinder Liberia’s bid to move on from a legacy of conflict,” Marmon wrote.

What Challenges Does 2016 Hold for Sub-Saharan Africa?

Writing at the start of the year, African security analyst Ryan Cummings outlined the key challenges he saw facing the continent in 2016. Among them were continued retaliatory attacks from Boko Haram in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger as a government campaign against the extremist group enjoyed considerable success. This ultimately proved true, as Boko Haram increasingly targeted state military assets through the year. Cummings rightly predicted ongoing instability in Burundi and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, both of which related to the efforts of their leaders to cling to power.

Kenyans on High Alert as Threat From al-Shabaab Rises

Al-Shabaab seemed on the ropes at the end of 2015, yet saw a resurgence in Kenya at the start of the new year. In March, security analyst Olga Bogorad reported on the potential of future violent attacks against high profile targets, including airports in Nairobi and Mombasa, and detailed how the group was moving into more southern and central regions of the country. She pointed to the risks of further fragmentation of Africa’s terrorist forces in coming years.

 Uganda’s 2016 Elections: Another Setback for Democracy

Elections held in Uganda at the start of the year saw Yoweri Museveni retain the presidency he has held since 1986. Opposition candidates contended that the voting had seen suppression of their campaigns, fraud, and voter intimidation. Julius Kaka, a fellow of the African Leadership Centre at Kings College London, put the events in a wider historical context, claiming that there were weaknesses with electoral laws and the conduct of elections from the previous two elections.

Special Report, Part 2: The AU’s Less Coercive Diplomacy on Burundi

Paul D. Williams’s first special report on the African Union’s attempted intervention to stem Burundi’s election-related violence was one of 2015’s top Global Observatory reads. His early 2016 follow-up followed suit, analyzing the repercussions of the AU’s attempt at “coercive diplomacy,” which was rejected by Burundi’s government. Williams argued that there was a more complicated narrative than the attempted intervention being simply a failure.

January 1, 2017: Let the Honeymoon for UN Reform Begin

October saw the appointment former Prime Minister of Portugal and former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres as next UN secretary-general. A month prior, New York-based academics Thomas G. Weiss and Tatiana Carayannis outlined the ambitious reform agenda facing Ban Ki-moon’s replacement, and their view of how best to achieve i: “In short, the new occupant of the UN’s top floor requires more than anything else an overarching vision about institutional reform rather than waste the opportunity by choosing low-hanging fruit or merely reacting to member state initiatives.”

 A New Path Emerges for Troubled Somali Security

“The international community is contemplating a paradigm shift in the nature of its support to Somalia’s security sector,” wrote Sahan Research members Ilya Gridneff and Brian O’Sullivan in November. This, they said, responded to the limited progress made in providing for the country’s security and was designed to be more aligned with the country’s federal administrative structure. The two concluded that progress was likely be painful and slow but ultimately more authentic and less reversible than past efforts.

With New Resolutions, Sustaining Peace Sits at Heart of UN Architecture

The United Nations Security Council and General Assembly adopted identical resolutions in April on “sustaining peace,” a new vision for the UN’s peacebuilding architecture. The International Peace Institute’s Youssef Mahmoud and Andrea Ó Súilleabháin provided an insight into what exactly the concept involved, describing it as an inherently political process that spans prevention, mediation, conflict management, and resolution.